Puzzle Pieces (5/20/2018)

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Please go back into your childhood and remember some special relatives that are no longer with you. Who are they?

I remember Uncle Ralph and Aunt Carrie. They were my great uncle and aunt on my mother’s side of the family. Uncle Ralph was 6’5” tall with a blocky frame. Aunt Carrie was 4’11” and weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. They loved to spend time with their family. Short visits with them weren’t possible. If you wanted to talk with them for two hours, you needed to start leaving fifteen minutes into the visit. It took at least an hour and a half to get from their kitchen to the car.

I have fond memories of the times they came to see us. Not only did I appreciate their company, I also enjoyed the gifts they brought me every time they arrived. They gave me toys. That is, until I got a little older. Then things changed.

When I was about six years old, they came for a visit. I watched Aunt Carrie’s hand disappear into the top of the bag she was carrying. She was going to get my treasure. What could it be? What new toy would I be playing with that afternoon?

After a couple of seconds, Aunt Carrie pulled her hand out of the bag. She handed me my new treasure. A pair of socks.

Socks. Who wanted socks? Not me. And evidently my face showed it. After they left, my dad said that when I saw them, my facial expressions made it obvious I wasn’t happy with what they gave me.

Soon after that, they quit bringing me gifts when they visited. I assume it’s because I was getting older.

It one thing to be ungrateful for socks when you’re six years old, but how do we treat the gifts God gives to each disciple of Jesus?

Last week, we looked at 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, which tells us the Holy Spirit gives each one of us spiritual gifts that we are to use for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 tells us how we should use them. It says, 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

This passage says God arranges the parts of his body, the church, the way he wants it to be. God has sent every one of us to Snake Spring Valley CoB to be part of this congregation.

This means we don’t have the right to tell any other person he or she needs to go and worship somewhere else. The only time we’re to put someone out of the church is if they have unrepentant sin in their lives or are causing division. This scripture also teaches that every one here who is a follower of Jesus has spiritual gifts that are to be used for the body of Christ.

Your spiritual gifts are God’s gift to the whole church through you. If you choose not to use them, then the body of Christ looks like a puzzle that has missing pieces.

What’s the first thing people notice when they see a 500-piece puzzle that has one piece missing? The hole where the missing piece belongs. You can tell what it is but it’s incomplete. If you aren’t using your spiritual gifts, this congregation looks the same way. Pieces are missing. When people look at it, they can’t see the full beauty of the ministries that’s found when everyone joins together to form a united body.

Last week we gave everyone spiritual gift assessments and asked you to complete them. Once they’re completed, please place them in the plastic box on the table. We’ll make a copy and then return the original to you. If you choose not to complete the spiritual gifts assessment and then use your gifts, you aren’t only hurting yourself. You’re hurting our congregation and, truth be told, you’re sinning against God. No one else can do it for you. Only you can put your piece in the puzzle.

We need to make sure we use our gifts the way the Bible says they are to be used. For example, my spiritual gift assessment says I have the gift of being a pastor. How does the Bible say I should be using this gift?

While there are several passages which list the type of characteristics church leaders should possess, the word “pastor” is only mentioned one place in the Bible. The Apostle Paul lumps in in with four other spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 4:11-13. It says, 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The primary responsibility God gives me is to equip you to do works of service, so the church may be built up. That’s my number one priority. Everything else is secondary.

If we’re going to be equipped to do what God calls us to do, we have to get out of our comfort zones. Nowhere does the Bible say we’re supposed to be comfortable. Jesus calls us to do just the opposite. We’re told to take the message and love of Jesus out into a world that wants to reject him. There’s nothing comfortable about that at all.

Several months ago, the Lord laid it on my heart to have us pray in small groups at intercessory prayer time during worship. While passing the microphone gets many people praying for a few requests, praying in small groups get a few people praying for many prayer requests.

I realize praying this way makes some of you uncomfortable. But please let me ask you something. If we’re not willing to pray for each other during worship, where it’s as safe to pray as it can possible be, then how in the world are we going to pray for our friends, family and neighbors out in the world when they have a need? By asking us to get in small groups to share what’s going on in our lives and then pray for each other, I’m actually training us to be more comfortable praying so we can pray outside of this building.

It doesn’t bother me one bit to stretch us out of our comfort zones. God does this to me all the time. Guess what happens when he does this? My faith grows and I’m more willing to use my spiritual gifts for him.

As you learn what your spiritual gifts are and how the use them for God’s kingdom, expect God to make you uncomfortable at times too. He has to do this. This simple formula tells us why.

Familiarity breeds Comfort

We’re creatures of habit that don’t like surprises, unless it’s a gift or something positive. We want things that are familiar. For example, how many of you have a routine that you normally follow when you get up in the morning? Perhaps it goes something like this: Use the bathroom, shower, brush your teeth and then drink coffee. The reason we do this is because it’s the most comfortable way we’ve found to do these things.

We like to do the same thing with our religion. Routine brings comfort. Keep the order of worship the same so we know what’s coming. Sit in the same pew so we know everyone who sits around us. Pass the microphone for prayers so I don’t have to say anything if I don’t want to.

Comfort breeds Contentment

Once we become comfortable, we get content with the way things are. Any changes that come along threaten to undo the very things that made us comfortable in the first place. We don’t want that. At this point, church becomes about the preferences of the people attending. And not about Jesus.

Contentment breeds Ineffectiveness

Once we get content with the way things are, we no longer want to take the gospel out into a hostile – and dying – world. Successful ministry is then measured by attendance records and the amount of the offering. Bringing healing to the hurting, saving the lost and spiritual growth are discussed in Sunday School class but no one ever gets around to actually doing them.

Ineffectiveness makes the “church” nothing more than a social club.

Dinners, picnics and bus trips then make-up most of the congregational activities. The main thing that identifies the congregation as a church is its name.

I’m not saying our congregation is like this. We’re far from it. However, if we choose our own comfort over being faithful to the mission Jesus gives us, this is what we’ll become.

Sisters and brothers, I’m asking you to let go of any fears you have to go on a journey with God. A journey to discover what your spiritual gifts are, how to use them more effectively for Jesus and, most of all, to see the power of God unfold in new ways as you venture into the painful areas of life.

We don’t have to be afraid of where God will take us. The love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in us will guide us and give us courage.

Being disappointed in the gift Uncle Ralph and Aunt Carrie gave me had no eternal consequences. It didn’t affect my life if I didn’t use them. I had other socks. Being disappointed in the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us and refusing to use them is another matter. It does have eternal consequences. It makes the church incomplete and, even worse, means others aren’t experiencing the full love and power of Jesus.